Over the past few years, I’ve had the opportunity to participate in several comprehensive sales-leadership assessments. During this time, there have also been a number of widely published research papers regarding “best-in-class” sales-coaching practices. The data from these two efforts send some important messages regarding where sales managers should be spending their precious time on their coaching efforts.
The first has to do with the type of sales coaching that is being conducted. Two specific areas stood out
- Skills Coaching
- Strategy Coaching
And which one do you think gets the most attention? You guessed it: Strategy Coaching. It’s all about getting “the deal,” and because Strategy Coaching feels more urgent and the results of it are more tangible, Skills Coaching tends to get neglected.
Data from the assessments show that sales managers spend up to 70% of their coaching time and effort on deals. In contrast, best-in-class managers spend more like 55% of their time in this area and place almost equal importance on Skills Coaching, which means that it also gets more of their attention.
The best sales managers determine early on which skills are most needed, and they hold off on Strategy Coaching until the deal is better understood. They focus on building qualifying and discovery skills in their reps, saving Strategy Coaching until “the deal” is more developed and the insights they had gained could be leveraged to greater advantage.
Recent assessments and best-in-class research also show that other critical sales-coaching practices need more attention:
- Focus on a small number of performance issues: Covering fewer topics actually results in more positive behavioral change.
- Provide concrete examples of what kinds of changes need to be made: Fuzzy coaching topics don’t help much and lead to both parties becoming frustrated.
- Coach the middle performers: When coached, low performers stay longer and still don’t improve much, while average performers lose out on professional-development opportunities. And yet, these middle performers have the most potential to positively affect business results.
- Prepare for coaching conversations and allocate enough time for them: Coaching takes time, energy, and creativity. Preparing for these conversations beforehand makes a big difference in how your time is used.
- Engage the person in the coaching conversation: Sales coaching is a “contact sport”—it takes good, two-way communication to work the way it should.
- Commit to following through: Sales manager’s following through was the most-forgotten step in the process. If you’re going to make the effort to coach, you really need to see it all the way through.
Lastly, best-in-class sales organizations have agreed-upon performance standards that they share and use to gauge the areas in which to coach their sales reps, taking all of the guesswork out of the process.